2015 Annual Gathering Photos and Keynote

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Download Senator Coash’s Keynote Address (mp3, 25.5MB):

The Conservative Case for Ending the Death Penalty:
How Nebraska Did It

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS: Click on link above (opens in new window), then right-click on file, and click “Download” to save to your computer. It will play in most any audio program.

Ron Paul: Death Penalty is Big Government at Its Worst

Ron PaulJune 15, 2015. Nebraska’s legislature recently made headlines when it ended the state’s death penalty. Many found it odd that a conservatives-dominated legislature would support ending capital punishment, since conservative politicians have traditionally supported the death penalty. However, an increasing number of conservatives are realizing that the death penalty is inconsistent with both fiscal and social conservatism. These conservatives are joining with libertarians and liberals in a growing anti-death penalty coalition.

It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty. New Hampshire recently spent over $4 million dollars prosecuting just two death penalty cases, while Jasper County in Texas raised property taxes by seven percent in order to pay for one death penalty case! A Duke University study found that replacing North Carolina’s death penalty would save taxpayers approximately $22 million dollars in just two years.

Death penalty cases are expensive because sentencing someone to death requires two trials. The first trial determines the accused person’s guilt, while the second trial determines if the convicted individual “deserves” the death penalty. A death sentence is typically followed by years of appeals, and sometimes the entire case is retried.

Despite all the time and money spent to ensure that no one is wrongly executed, the system is hardly foolproof. Since 1973, one out of every ten individuals sentenced to death has been released from death row because of evidence discovered after conviction.

The increased use of DNA evidence has made it easier to clear the innocent and identify the guilty. However, DNA evidence is not a 100 percent guarantee of an accurate verdict. DNA evidence is often mishandled or even falsified. Furthermore, DNA evidence is available in only five to 10 percent of criminal cases.

It is not surprising that the government wastes so much time and money on such a flawed system. After all, corruption, waste, and incompetence are common features of government programs ranging from Obamacare to the TSA to public schools to the post office. Given the long history of government failures, why should anyone, especially conservatives who claim to be the biggest skeptics of government, think it is a good idea to entrust government with the power over life and death?

Death penalty supporters try to claim the moral high ground by claiming that the death penalty deters crime. But, if the death penalty is an effective deterrent, why do jurisdictions without the death penalty have a lower crime rate than jurisdictions with the death penalty? And why did a 2009 survey find that the majority of American police chiefs consider the death penalty the least effective way to reduce violent crime?

As strong as the practical arguments against the death penalty are, the moral case is much stronger. Since it is impossible to develop an error-free death penalty system, those who support the death penalty are embracing the idea that the government should be able to execute innocent people for the “greater good.” The idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their right to life for imaginary gains in personal safety is even more dangerous to liberty than the idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their property rights for imaginary gains in economic security.

Opposition to allowing the government to take life is also part of a consistent pro-life position. Thus, those of any ideology who oppose abortion or preemptive war should also oppose the death penalty. Until the death penalty is abolished, we will have neither a free nor a moral society.

Link to original article

Killing killers won’t bring back victims (Renny Cushing, TIME)

from TIME Magazine, May 28, 2015

Cushing is a five-term New Hampshire state representative and a founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty. AP photo/Jim Cole
Rep. Renny Cushing
AP photo/Jim Cole

In hauntingly similar but unrelated crimes, separated by 23 years and a thousand miles, my father Robert Cushing and my brother-in-law Stephen McRedmond were murdered, both at their own houses. Family homes became crime scenes; horror displaced happiness; and homicide, as it always does, brought to my family pain for which there are no words.

Nothing prepares a person for the murder of a loved one–to have what is most precious taken, forever, by another human being. Murder is the ultimate disempowerment, for both the victim and the survivors. And every family responds differently to murder and its traumatic wounds.

The challenges are many: Finding the strength to get out of bed. Figuring out what to do with the empty chair at the kitchen table. Working to understand–and avoid being crushed by–police investigations and court systems. And honoring the life and the memory of the deceased while seeking justice.

But I do not believe the needs of crime victims or their survivors are met by killing the killers. In 2004, I helped create Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of survivors of homicide victims who oppose the death penalty. As a New Hampshire state representative, I work to promote policies that enhance public safety and meet the needs of crime victims. My father’s murderer, who had been a local police officer, is serving life without parole; my brother-in-law’s murderer, his nephew, took his own life.

 Our society is conflicted about the death penalty. I recognize and respect the diversity of opinions about capital punishment among survivors of murder victims. Unlike those of many death-penalty opponents, my views are victim-centered. My opposition is not rooted in what an execution does to a condemned prisoner but in what a system that embraces the ritual killing by government employees of an incapacitated prisoner does to me–to us, as individuals and as a society.

Arguing that an execution is the solution to the pain of victims’ families does not reflect an understanding of the journey of surviving family members after a murder, and it completely ignores the reality of our broken capital-punishment system. Most important, executions do not do the one thing we all really want: bring our loved ones back from the dead.

For any person, the worst murder is the murder of a family member. A system that purports to execute only those who commit heinous murders creates a hierarchy of victims. Families devastated by crime become revictimized by a system focused on criminals, while the impact of crime itself and the needs of victims are all too often ignored. Sadly, some victims’ survivors spend so much time focusing on how their cherished one died that they end up forgetting how the person lived.

As a society, we can and we must do better by victims of violent crime. We can live without the death penalty.

This appeared in TIME online on May 28, 2015 and in the June 08, 2015 print issue of TIME. Link to original article.

Beyond the Death Penalty – May 11 Boston

 May 12

After the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases in the penalty phase of the federal trial to either kill or imprison Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a panel of death penalty abolitionists gathered at Old South Church in Boston.

Old South Church stands at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and is less than 100 yards east of the detonation point of the first pressure cooker bomb, the one placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The second bomb, the one placed by Dzhokhar and which detonated 12 seconds later, lies one block farther west.

I arrived a half-hour early for the panel discussion, in case seating was a problem, but I needn’t have worried. The only immediate concern I had was how I was going to see anything. It must be some cost-saving measure in churches that they only use 40-watt bulbs, or perhaps it is to do with the atmospherics. I managed to find myself an altar boy seat off to one side of where the panel would sit so I would at least be close. To warm myself up for the talk I sketched the table and plethora of media microphones. You have to love working in ballpoint for making you decisive. By the time I was done, the chapel had filled, and the speakers took their seats.

If anyone in the world had the right to vengeance via state-sanctioned murder, it is this panel of speakers. New Hampshire state representative Robert Renny Cushing chaired the discussion. His father, Robert Cushing, was shot to death on his own front doorstep in 1988. Julia Rodriguez’s brother Greg died in the World Trade Center attacks. Bob Curley’s son Jeffrey was abducted and killed in 1997. And Bud Welch’s daughter Julie died in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Bud Welch spoke first. Bud’s daughter was 23 years old and working as a linguist in the Murrah Federal Building in April of 1995. “The bombing happened on a Wednesday morning and her body was not found until Saturday morning,” he said. She had just visited the front desk to meet a Mexican man who spoke no English, and was walking back to her desk with him when the bomb exploded. “If it had happened a few seconds later she would have been back in her department again.” All of her co-workers in the back of the building survived the blast. “I have thought about those few seconds a lot,” he said.

At first Bud’s need for revenge fueled him. In the days after the bombing he hoped that someone would shoot Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols dead.

“On a Monday morning, at 7 a.m. on June 11, 2001, in Terre Haute, Indiana, we took Tim McVeigh from his cage,” he said, “and we killed him.”

In the months and years since the attack, Bud’s opinion of the death penalty has changed. He believed that the attack on the Federal Building had been driven by “revenge and hate.” He wanted to send his vengeance in a different direction. “Shortly afterwards, I started speaking out against the death penalty,” he said.

Terry Nichols will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Next to speak was Bob Curley. Bob’s son was 10 years old and playing in the front yard of his grandmother’s home in 1997 when Sal Sicari and Charles Jaynes abducted him. “Two weeks prior they had stolen his bicycle. On that day they drove by and said, ‘Jeff, come with us. We are going to get you a new bicycle.’ He got in the car with them,” he said, looking down at his hands clasped on the table.

The two men then attempted to coerce Jeff into having sex with them by offering money and a new bike. “But my Jeff knew right from wrong.” Mr. Curley said. At least one of the men sexually assaulted Jeffrey before suffocating him with a gasoline soaked rag, placing his body in a concrete-filled plastic container and dumping it in a river in Southern Maine. Police divers found his body six days later.

“Given what happened to Jeffrey, I honestly don’t know if I could feel any other way than to be in favor of the death penalty,” he said, gazing at the assembled crowd with eyes like hardened flint.

Mr. Curley became a staunch advocate for the death penalty, leading the fight in Massachusetts to bring it back. As years went by, though, Mr. Curley began to realize that he felt pressured to be in favor of the death penalty because of his son’s death, and that he felt obligated by society to want to kill the men who had done this.

Both Sicari and Jaynes were convicted of the murder of Jeffrey. Sicari is now serving life without parole, while Jaynes is serving life with the possibility of parole after 23 years.

Next to speak was Julia Rodriguez. Julia said it was her first time ever talking publicly about her brother’s death. Her talk was halting and distracted at times by memories.. “There is just so much pain, and it is impossible to find answers,” she said.

After the attacks Julia joined other family members of 9/11 victims in opposing the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in connection with the attacks. Moussaoui is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the same Federal Supermax prison in Colorado that Dzhokhar may go to.
“The death penalty is seen as an easy answer,” she said, “but it is harmful to us to be complicit in a conscious act of violence and death.”

State Rep. Cushing was the last to speak to the small gathering. Cushing lost his father in June of 1988 when Robert McLaughlin, an off-duty police officer, and his wife, Susan, bent on avenging an earlier incident, shot him at his front door with a shotgun checked out of the police evidence locker. Ten years earlier, Cushing’s father had witnessed Officer McLaughlin assault an elderly woman while on duty.

Cushing said he had always been staunchly against the death penalty. He recounted an incident in a local grocery store after his father had been killed. “An old family friend said to me, ‘I hope they fry the bastards.’ ” His friend, who had known him for years, assumed that he would change his opinion on capital punishment because of his father’s murder. “But I realized that if I changed my position, that would only compound the problem,” he said. “If we let those who kill turn us into murderers, evil triumphs and we are all worse off.”

Robert and Susan McLaughlin were convicted of the murder of Robert Cushing and are serving sentences of life imprisonment without parole.

In 2004, Cushing founded Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed who oppose the death penalty in all cases.

There was no dissent in the room, just a final call from the audience to continue the protest demonstration outside the courthouse where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate will be decided.

Full Tsarnaev trial gallery here.

This weeks’ artist of note is Arthur (Art) Lien.

Art is one of three workhorse trial artists in the front row at the Tsarnaev trial. Each day he produces dozens of top-quality images for use by television stations and other media outlets. They will often only use one of the pieces he produces each day. I think they are unable to see the brilliance in the breadth and depth of his visual reportage. Court artists are immersed in the trial and the characters far more completely than anyone else in the room, they are not just human cameras to circumvent inconvenient court rules. 

Behind the Walls: The Strafford County Jail Family Reception Center

By Donna Coriaty

Family Reception Center“My life changed forever on the night my ‘loved one’ was arrested.” For some this statement is underscored with a sigh of relief that their loved one is finally off the streets and beginning the long road to recovery. For most it is change accompanied by guilt, confusion, embarrassment and isolation.

For many this is the first time that a person close to them has been arrested. The TV crime drama has become reality and they are in the center of it. Contrary to popular belief all those arrested do not come from broken or dysfunctional homes. However, the stress of detention can certainly damage families and relationships. Previously supportive friends and neighbors turn away because they just don’t know what to say.

In March 2003, having experienced the incarceration of a loved one, a former employee of the Strafford County Jail, with the blessings of County Administration, established the Family Reception Center. The Center is supported financially through grants and donations and staffed by volunteers. In the years that I have volunteered at the Center I have seen many broken individuals receive the information and support they need to lessen the impact experienced through incarceration.

Family Reception Center 1A couple of years after I began volunteering at the Family Reception Center I had the opportunity to visit the State Prison. Outside it was a bright spring day but that changed as I entered the prison waiting room. The overcrowded area was dark and dingy in stark contrast to the brightly decorated welcoming area at Strafford County. There were no racks of beneficial information, refreshments needed after a long drive or a friendly greeting. There no toys or books to keep the innocent children amused.

As I waited to go through security with the other visitors I noticed a petite woman wearing jeans and a hoodie enter the building. She looked sad and confused as she spoke to anyone who would listen. “This is my first visit here to see my son. What do I do?” A few people pointed to the officer seated behind the scratched pexiglass window. As the woman numbly slid her license and keys through the window opening the Officer noted, “No hoodies allowed inside.” A look of panic came across her face as she removed the hoodie revealing a tank top and he added, “No tank tops allowed.” As she looked around with tears in her eyes another visitor handed her a sweater. Finally she could visit her son. I thought of the clothing we keep at the Family Reception center for moments like this. Visits are always difficult; dress requirements albeit necessary shouldn’t add to the humiliation and stress.

Easter Baskets 2I remember the elderly grandmother who came each week with her two school age grandchildren to visit their mother, her only daughter. Her stooped body always appeared so tired. After their visits she and the children would stop by the Center located in the lobby of the jail for refreshments. As we chatted I learned that when her daughter was arrested she took a bus from South Carolina to take care of the children. Not only had she left her extended family and friends behind but she had not told them the reason for coming north. She was too embarrassed! During our weekly visits, I would gently encourage her to reach out to her family back in SC. Finally, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving she did; her sister was coming to help. I can still hear the excitement in her voice as she thanked me for “being there.”

“Being there” may be the most important role of a volunteer at the Center. “Being there” with a smile, a kind word, a hug; “being there” with helpful information and resources to improve the situation that families’ face and assisting them through the seemingly endless reams of red tape.   “Being there” for the children providing a friendly atmosphere and maybe a small, stuffed friend to take home reminding them they are not alone.   “Being there” hosting a BBQ for families in the spring, filling Easter and Thanksgiving baskets, wrapping gifts and assisting Santa distribute them at the annual Christmas Party.

Corrections Officers at the Strafford County Jail support our “being there” and have often commented on the positive effect the Family Reception Center has on the inmates. Knowing there are people at the Jail that respect and care for their families encourages successful behavior.

Some who visited the Family Reception Center as guests have returned as volunteers. They know firsthand the importance of “being there.”

Donna outside the NH Supreme Court in January 2015
Donna outside the NH Supreme Court in January 2015

In the brief essay, “Until it comes to your door,” the author laments the lack of compassion often shown to families and friends of the incarcerated. “They do not know this journey that we share as causalities to the varying scenarios that brought our loved ones to incarceration. And oddly enough having once sat in that seat of innocent ignorance and condescendence what they really do not know, is that it can happen to anyone, even them.”

It is said that often those we help turn out to be healers for us, showing us important spiritual lessons that we can apply to our own situations. So it is with those who interact at the Strafford County Jail Family Reception Center. While the volunteers strive to reinforce the visitors’ dignity they are inspired by the resilience of the human spirit. Ultimately, we are all reminded that judgment must be replaced by mercy because no one knows what adversity is behind our next door.

Donna Coriaty is a member of NHCADP. 

“Behind the Walls” is a series of articles featuring members who have worked with prisoners or their families. We hope to shed light on the lives that most people never see or think about.

(Video) Death Penalty Forum at UNH Law April 8

On April 8, the Rudman Center at UNH Law School in Concord hosted a moderated forum of perspectives on both sides of the death penalty issue. Rep. Renny Cushing and Attorney Andru Volinksy spoke on the side of repeal, while Attorney Charles Douglas III and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro spoke for retaining the death penalty. About 100 people attended. Many questions from the audience were addressed. The event offered an insightful glimpse into many facets of the struggle to end capital punishment in our state. Watch the full event below.

Many thanks to the Rudman Center Student Board, especially Lyndsay Robinson (JD ’17) and staffperson Dellie Champagne for organizing the evening.

Catholic publications call for end to capital punishment

Christian Gohl holds a sign during a Jan. 28, 2014, vigil outside St. Louis University College Church ahead the execution of Missouri death-row inmate Herbert Smulls of St. Louis. Smulls was executed after midnight Jan. 29. (CNS/St. Louis Review/Lisa Johnston)


Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case out of Oklahoma that challenges the most widely used lethal injection protocol as being cruel and unusual punishment.The court took up the case in January after a year of three high-profile, problematic executions in three states. The court will likely issue a ruling by June. Our hope is that it will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, praised the decision saying, “… the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.” The chair of the Pro-Life Activities committee, Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, also praised the court’s decision to hear the case. “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We pray that the Court’s review of these protocols will lead to the recognition that institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life. Capital punishment must end.”We, the editors of four Catholic journals — AmericaNational Catholic RegisterNational Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor — urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

The Catholic church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishmentLast year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.” The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.

Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has postponed all seven executions in the state scheduled for 2015 pending further study. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called “a flawed system … ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Both governors also cited the growing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.

In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. … But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

Archbishop Chaput reminds us that when considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that it is we, acting through our government, who are the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed his crime and has answered for it in this life just as he shall answer for it before God. But it is the government, acting in our name, that orders and perpetrates lethal injection. It is we who add to, instead of heal, the violence.

Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim’s family. But advocates who walk with the families of victims, like Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, tell a different story.

“I think of mothers who attend our annual service for Families and Friends of Murder Victims,” a program the Mercy sisters have sponsored for 18 years. “Asked what they want for their children’s killers, no one asks for the death penalty,” she said. “Their reason: ‘I wouldn’t want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.’ Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity.”

The facts of the case in Oklahoma — which echo reports from Ohio and Arizona — were especially egregious. Last April, the drug protocol failed in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett moaned in pain before authorities suspended the execution; he would die of a heart attack later that night. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said at the time, “The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

The Supreme Court has agreed with Archbishop Coakley and will consider the issue. We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.

link to original article